by Steven E Smith
To be successful at farming requires a number of different skills and abilities. Many farmers are natural self-starters who use their initiative and passionate commitment to the many tasks at hand on a farm as their hallmark for success. If they expand their farm, these farm business owners have to confront the challenge of inspiring a similar amount of knowledge and passionate work ethic in employees who work for them. Sometimes it is wise to consider the practices of others professional leaders in different industries to gain valuable perspective on how they accomplished the task of inspiring others.
For John Doherty, who had a 23-year career as the Executive Chef of the Waldorf Astoria, leadership in the business of hotel restaurant management was born from his personal passion for the business and rearing by his development of an understanding of how to find and encourage people who possess a similar love for their work. Doherty cooked for more presidents, heads of state and royalty than any other chef in the nation. He has been featured on MSNBC’s Today Show, PBS’s At the Chef’s Table, as well as many more appearances on the Food Network, A&E and the Travel Channel.
Doherty developed his philosophy on leadership over time as he advanced through the ranks.
“My excitement for the job grew first from my desire to continuously get better at what I was doing as a staff member for seven years prior to becoming the boss. I was inspired to move to leadership because I saw the cancer within the staff of bad attitudes, low expectations and subpar performance from some members of the staff. When I was hired as Executive Chef, the change in the staff culture did not happen overnight and it was an extremely difficult mindset to remove. For me, there were many fronts of resistance that came in the form of character attacks and I was eventually physically attacked and hospitalized.”
As he recovered from his injuries, Doherty came to the realization that when faced with adversity, there are only three ways to respond to it. One choice is to change and fix the problem. Another option is just to accept the change or lastly, a person can just stop everything and consider themselves the victim.
Doherty realized that much of the problem in the staff had started because of a lack of organization. This drove chaos and bred adversarial relationships. In managing his teams of more than 150 staff in total, Doherty explained his leadership keys as framing his expectations of the staff through explaining his vision. Doherty also identified the importance of outlining the team structure and disciplinary hierarchy, expanding the team knowledge base, holding the staff accountable and encouraging communication.
According to Doherty, vision gives purpose. When coupled with structure and discipline, the combination yields crystal clear expectations. “As leader, I made certain that there is follow through on commitments. But not with an iron fist, instead through good questions and listening skills to determine the status of my team’s abilities.” Leaders need to listen for gaps in knowledge, or even misunderstanding at the beginning with the vision. Doherty stressed that the knowledge portion is very critical because it serves as the tools for success. “My follow through on the accountability piece then became imperative because it served as feedback on employee performance as well as on my ability to effectively lead the team through the task at hand.”
In time, Doherty decided what he wanted to find people who shared a similar passion for the job that he had. “Passionate people are difficult to find but easier to inspire.” He became known for his legendary interviews. “My goal in an interview is to find out who has initiative. With that comes understanding what the potential employee want and then what level of initiative they use to get what they want.” To that end, Doherty mentioned that another important and telling interaction with a perspective employee is to find out what frustration they encountered at their last job. Beside the fact that some personality types will expound considerably and make it possible to learn more about them, the follow up question in the interview should be, “So what did you do about it?”
“Once the employee is hired onto my team, I narrowed my focus to inspiring passion, initiative, effort, developing the knowledge base and encouraging everyone to walk the walk,” said Doherty. Doherty’s philosophy is based on a series of fundamentals that increase quality on the team. “The difference between good and great is effort. Effort is fueled by desire.” According to Doherty, the difference is based on the person’s desire. So what makes a person have desire? Desire comes from passion. Passion comes from appreciation. Appreciation comes from knowledge therefore knowledge is the seed of passion.” Doherty went further to say that in an interwoven fashion, understanding plus knowledge leads to appreciation, appreciation plus knowledge grows into like. Like plus knowledge turns into love. Finally love plus knowledge results in passion.”
To inspire improved team performance, Doherty would use an important lesson in leading these people that he saw used by a dog trainer. By not recognizing bad behavior, Doherty found a way to motivate his employees. “After telling employees what the desired outcome for a project was, I then ask them how they would approach the task. As I listen to their answer, I learn their knowledge and how they plan their actions. Later, I would go into the kitchen and find people doing things right. People want to get caught doing things right and appreciate genuine praise.”
Doherty explained that the real opportunity to improve the staff culture and advance the performance of team is when the leader understands the motivators and makes sure the employee understands the expectations. “When done right, the employer/staff culture becomes an environment for learning and growing by which you inspire the desire because you can’t force it into them (the employee).”
In agriculture, many farmers have farmed their entire life and so it is second nature. What is not as natural is the practice of perceiving what knowledge gaps exist in the other person’s understanding of tasks at hand. While it is common to think, “this job might be easier if I do this myself,” as Chef at the Waldorf Astoria, it was impossible for Doherty to do all the work so he had to figure out how to get the best out of those on his team. While some would say it is impossible to cultivate interest, enthusiasm or passion in another person if the core beliefs are not already in that other person, John Doherty’s philosophy and experiences at the Waldorf Astoria gives perspective on ways to ignite the passion and commitment to quality work from members of any team.
by Steven E Smith